Archaeology: An Introduction to the World's Greatest Sites

In partnership with
National Geographic Explorer Eric H. Cline, Ph.D.
The George Washington University Capitol Archaeological Institute
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Course No. 9431
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Travel to the iconic sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.
  • numbers Learn about seminal 20th-century finds of hominids in Africa, which provided clues to the origins of our ancestors.
  • numbers Explore how strategies like "vertical" and "horizontal" excavations are used by Archeologists in the field.
  • numbers Journey into the archaeological heritage of North America, beginning with the excavation of the Hunley.
  • numbers Travel to the Teotihuacan and also Tenochtitlan, a site buried under modern Mexico City.

Course Overview

The work of archaeologists has commanded worldwide attention and captivated the human imagination since the earliest days of the exploration, with groundbreaking discoveries such as the treasures of ancient Egypt, the lost kingdoms of the Maya, and the fabled city of Troy. Archaeology brings us face-to-face with our distant ancestors, with treasures of the past, and with life as it was lived in long-ago civilizations.

Despite the fascinating and often romantic appeal of archaeology, many of us have little idea of what the field actually involves. What, exactly, do archaeologists do? What takes place on an archaeological dig? And how does the reality of the work differ from what we see in Indiana Jones movies?

Archaeology: An Introduction to the World's Greatest Sites, taught by renowned archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer Eric H. Cline, answers these questions and more in rich and provocative detail. This thrilling new course, produced in partnership with National Geographic, introduces you to over 20 of the most significant and enthralling archaeological sites on the planet, providing both an in-depth look at the sites themselves and an insider’s view of the history, science, and technology of archaeology.

Within the course’s 24 visually rich lectures, you’ll study some of the most famous archaeological discoveries of all time, including:

  • the tomb of King Tut: the final resting place of ancient Egypt’s boy pharaoh, whose dramatic discovery mesmerized the world in 1922
  • the ruins of Pompeii: the astonishingly well-preserved ancient Roman city, which was buried in 79 A.D. by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius
  • the terra-cotta warriors at Xi’an: the vast army of life-size ceramic soldiers created to guide China’s first emperor into the afterlife

Throughout the course, Professor Cline offers dynamic commentary and responds to questions archaeologists are frequently asked, such as: How do archaeologists find ancient sites? How is an actual excavation performed? How do archaeologists determine how old something is?

In examining the world’s premier archaeological sites, the lectures explore how archaeology plays a vital role in the advancement of knowledge, by separating folklore and legend from factual history. As Professor Cline makes clear, archaeology is one of the most objective sources we have about history as it really happened, allowing us to cross-check written accounts, as well as to discover information, events, and cultures we knew nothing about.

Travel with a National Geographic Explorer

What began as a haphazard search for famous sites of ancient history has evolved into a highly organized, professional, and systematic study of the peoples and cultures of the past. During this course, you’ll trace the evolution of archaeology from the first crude excavations at Herculaneum to the advanced methods being used at Teotihuacan today. You’ll also gain firsthand insight into cutting-edge technology that has forever changed the field.

And, in this site-oriented exploration, you’ll travel the world: from Ur in Mesopotamia to China’s Shanxi Province; from Masada in Israel to the ancient ruins of Akrotiri in Greece; from Sutton Hoo in England to Machu Picchu in Peru, and many other intriguing locales.

For over a century, National Geographic has been a leader in bringing archaeological discoveries to the world through countless explorations, digs, research projects, and magazine stories. Whether you’re new to the subject or a seasoned archaeology enthusiast, National Geographic’s unique resources will provide an unparalleled glimpse into this fascinating field.

Visit Majestic Civilizations of the Past

These compelling lectures span a stunning range of archaeological discoveries, from excavations on land and under the oceans, to sites located in caverns, frozen in ice, and buried under volcanic ash. Among the many archaeological treasures featured in the course, you’ll study:

  • secrets of Egyptology: Take an in-depth look at how the great Pyramids at Giza, the Step Pyramid of King Zozer, and the Sphinx were built. Learn about the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics and the mysterious techniques of Egyptian embalming and mummification.
  • the glories of ancient Mesopotamia: Discover the resplendent funerary objects of the celebrated “Death Pits of Ur.” At legendary sites such as Nimrud and Ninevah, explore monumental Neo-Assyrian palaces, with their colossal statues, inscribed slabs, and vast libraries of cuneiform texts.
  • Knossos and the cult of the bull: On the island of Crete, investigate the ceremonial, open-air palace of the Minoans; examine its striking wall paintings of sumptuously adorned royals; and explore the dramatic court ritual of bull-leaping and its links to the legend of the Minotaur.
  • ancient maritime trade: Delve into one of the most phenomenal archaeological finds of all time, the Uluburun shipwreck. This 3,000-year-old sunken vessel contained a full cargo of luxurious raw materials and finished goods, illuminating Mediterranean trade routes that existed 13 centuries before the Common Era.
  • Megiddo, jewel of the Near East: Follow the unfolding excavations at this unique site in northern Israel, where more than twenty ancient cities lie buried, one on top of another, revealing marvels of architecture in a sequence dating from 5,000 years ago to the time of Alexander the Great.
  • awe-inspiring archaeological sites of the New World: Across four lectures, travel to the superlative palaces, temple-pyramids, and astronomical structures of New World civilizations from the Maya and the Moche to the Aztecs. You’ll also meet the Nazca, creators of massive geoglyphs in the Peruvian desert.

Look Deeply into the Archaeologist’s Work

In tandem with an exploration of the sites themselves, Professor Cline provides a spirited and highly illuminating look at what archaeologists do and how they do it. Early in the course, you’ll learn about remote sensing technologies such as ground penetrating radar, which allow archaeologists to locate structures hidden from view beneath jungles and deserts.

Within three lectures on the how-to of archaeology, you’ll discover in detail how to excavate buried artifacts, how an archaeological dig is organized and carried out, and how archaeologists use a spectrum of sophisticated technologies to determine the age of sites and artifacts.

Professor Cline enriches the lectures with colorful and revealing stories from the field, drawn from his many years of archaeological work around the world. Among these is his account of his own extensive work at the site of Tel Kabri in Israel, where remarkable discoveries include the largest wine cellar ever found in the ancient Near East.

Professor Cline also weaves engrossing tales of famous and groundbreaking finds, such as Heinrich Schliemann’s unearthing of Troy, the story of intrigue through which the Dead Sea Scrolls were brought to the world, and the dramatic unfolding of archaeology’s first underwater excavation.

With rich visuals from National Geographic and images from the professor’s own dig sites, each fascinating location is brought to life with numerous on-site photos, as well as maps, artwork, animations, and location video such as the original dig footage of Masada, the site of a historic confrontation between imperial Rome and Jewish resistance fighters.

Archaeology: An Introduction to the World's Greatest Sites takes you on a vivid and detailed exploration of archaeology’s most magnificent discoveries, in the company of an expert archaeologist and historian with decades of experience in the field. Join The Great Courses and National Geographic for this globe-spanning journey into our breathtaking archaeological heritage.

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25 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Origins of Modern Archaeology
    Begin to investigate what archaeologists actually do, the nature and scope of their work, and popular misconceptions about the field. As an introduction to the course, trace the colorful history of archaeology from its beginnings with the ancient Babylonian king Nabonidus to archaeological luminaries of the 20th century. x
  • 2
    Excavating Pompeii and Herculaneum
    Travel to the iconic sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy—Roman towns that were famously destroyed by the 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Learn about the history of their excavation, and witness the astonishing preservation of buildings, objects, and human remains. Delve deeper to discover fascinating details of ancient Roman life. x
  • 3
    Schliemann and His Successors at Troy
    Follow the exploits of Heinrich Schliemann, a 19th-century amateur archaeologist who was determined to find the site of Homer's Troy. Learn about his dig through nine stratified cities, the astonishing finds, and the intense debates concerning which city was the actual Troy. Trace subsequent work at the site and examine the compelling conclusions. x
  • 4
    Early Archaeology in Mesopotamia
    Explore the history of phenomenal finds in Mesopotamia, beginning with the 19th-century unearthing of the great Assyrian palaces at Nimrud and Ninevah, with their libraries of cuneiform texts. Also contemplate the 20th-century discovery of the dazzling treasures of the famous Death Pits of Ur."" x
  • 5
    How Do Archaeologists Know Where to Dig?
    This lecture uncovers the methodology archaeologists use in looking for sites. Get acquainted with the uses of remote sensing technologies, such as LiDAR and ground penetrating radar, which enable archaeologists to visualize objects obscured by vegetation and soil. Then investigate ground surveys—reconnaissance done by carefully walking potential sites—which reveal vital information before digging. x
  • 6
    Prehistoric Archaeology
    Prehistoric archaeology allows us to glimpse the earliest times in hominid and human history. Learn about seminal 20th-century finds of hominids in Africa, which provided clues to the origins of our ancestors from millions of years ago. Then discover the astounding figural cave paintings of Lascaux, Altamira, and Chauvet. x
  • 7
    Göbekli Tepe, Çatalhöyük, and Jericho
    Among significant Neolithic (New Stone Age) sites, explore Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, whose imposing stone rings are the oldest known examples of monumental architecture in the early Near East. Continue to Jericho, with its extraordinary tombs and famous tower, and Turkey’s Çatalhöyük, noted for its mysterious houses built without doors or windows. x
  • 8
    Pyramids, Mummies, and Hieroglyphics
    In the first of two lectures on the wonders of Egyptology, learn about the deciphering of hieroglyphics through the legendary Rosetta Stone. Also explore the intriguing techniques of ancient Egyptian embalming and mummification, and get the stories behind the building of the Step Pyramid of Zozer, the Pyramids at Giza, and the Sphinx. x
  • 9
    King Tut's Tomb
    Trace the events that led Egyptologist Howard Carter to the dramatic discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922. Witness the unfolding excavation of the site, and uncover the spectacular treasures of the tomb. Consider why the tomb of a young and short-lived king might have contained such a vast display of wealth. x
  • 10
    How Do You Excavate at a Site?
    Here, delve into the specifics of how to perform an archaeological dig. Learn about the physical tools of the trade, how to excavate objects in the ground, and how a dig's schedule unfolds. Learn about strategies in the field such as vertical" and "horizontal" excavations, and walk through the process of organizing an archaeological project." x
  • 11
    Discovering Mycenae and Knossos
    Follow the archaeological search for King Agamemnon at Mycenae, and ponder the discovery of striking tomb objects as well as the palace from which the Mycenaeans sailed for Troy. From there, uncover the majestic palace of the Minoans at Knossos, with its vibrant wall paintings and perilous court rituals of bull-leaping. x
  • 12
    Santorini, Akrotiri, and the Atlantis Myth
    Visit the famously beautiful Greek island of Santorini, whose picturesque topography resulted from a volcanic eruption in the second millennium B.C. Explore the site of Akrotiri, a town buried under volcanic ash, renowned for masterful wall paintings reflecting ancient Aegean trade. Trace intriguing connections between the volcano's destruction and the myth of Atlantis. x
  • 13
    The Uluburun Shipwreck
    The Uluburun shipwreck, a vessel that sank in 1300 B.C. off the coast of what is now modern Turkey, ranks among the greatest archaeological finds of all time. Learn about its remarkable underwater excavation, and wonder at the ship's fabulous cargo, from ancient raw materials such as copper ingots and ivory to lavish finished goods and dazzling jewelry. x
  • 14
    The Dead Sea Scrolls
    The unearthing of the Dead Sea Scrolls revolutionized the field of biblical studies. Investigate the events that led to their discovery in 1947, and consider their extraordinary contents, which shed light on the Hebrew Bible through texts from over 2,000 years ago. Learn also about the fascinating finds in other nearby caves. x
  • 15
    The Myth of Masada?
    The excavation of Masada—the ancient mountain stronghold of Jewish rebels against Rome—was a milestone for archaeology. Explore the discoveries at the site, hear the harrowing story of its defense, and contemplate the controversy surrounding the use of a first-century historical account in interpreting the archaeological evidence. x
  • 16
    Megiddo: Excavating Armageddon
    The site of Megiddo in northern Israel comprises more than twenty ancient cities, built one atop the other. Trace the excavations there over the last century, and examine the discovery of Neo-Assyrian palaces, lavish Bronze Age tombs, monumental temples, and other treasures at one of the most important archaeological sites in the Near East. x
  • 17
    The Canaanite Palace at Tel Kabri
    Enjoy a firsthand look at archaeological fieldwork as Professor Cline recounts his own excavations at Israel's Tel Kabri. Follow the work at the site from 2005 to 2015, centering on an elaborate Bronze Age Canaanite palace, its striking architectural features, and the oldest and largest wine cellar ever discovered in the ancient Near East. x
  • 18
    Petra, Palmyra, and Ebla
    Here, visit three superlative sites in Jordan and Syria. Begin at Petra, with its breathtaking tombs and temples carved into the face of cliffs. At the desert oasis of Palmyra, explore the site's extraordinary Greco-Roman and Persian architecture. Finish at the great citadel of Ebla, famous for its enormous cache of ancient tablets. x
  • 19
    How Are Artifacts Dated and Preserved?
    Observe how the measurement of factors such as electromagnetic radiation, hydration, and carbon content can reveal the age of excavated objects. Examine how particular environmental conditions can preserve organic material over centuries or millennia. Finally, take account of the looting of antiquities and its impact on the world's archaeological heritage. x
  • 20
    The Terra-cotta Army, Sutton Hoo, and Ötzi
    Among the more unusual archaeological finds, investigate the accidental discovery of China's terra-cotta army, with its spectacular clay warriors, horses, and chariots. Ponder the accidental preservation" of a 7th-century ship at Sutton Hoo in England, and conclude with cases of remarkable preservation of human remains in bogs, ice, and desert environments." x
  • 21
    Discovering the Maya
    Trace the unearthing of the great Maya civilizations in the 19th century, and revel in the excitement of the recent “cracking” of Maya hieroglyphics. Contemplate the extraordinary temple-pyramids, tombs, and athletic courts of the Maya; consider the use of remote sensing technology in uncovering Maya structures; and explore the premier sites of Copán, Palenque, Tikal, and Chichén Itzá. x
  • 22
    The Nazca Lines, Sipán, and Machu Picchu
    Continue with three stellar South American sites: First, ponder the mysteries of the Nazca Lines, giant animal and human figures etched in the soil of the Peruvian desert. Then visit the New World’s richest unlooted tomb, that of the “Lord of Sipán,” and finish at Machu Picchu, glorious city of the Incas. x
  • 23
    Archaeology in North America
    Journey into the archaeological heritage of North America, beginning with the excavation of the Hunley, a Confederate submarine from the U.S. Civil War. Investigate the unearthing of colonial Jamestown, Virginia; consider the impact of the 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man"; and learn about legislation enacted to protect archaeological finds in the U.S." x
  • 24
    From the Aztecs to Future Archaeology
    Finally, travel to the site of Tenochtitlan, buried under modern Mexico City, and to Teotihuacan, with its vast pyramids and temples along the Avenue of the Dead. Conclude the course by considering how future archaeologists may interpret our own culture someday, and reflect on archaeology's contributions to our collective knowledge and our humanity. x
  • 25
    Extra Feature: Set Build Time-Lapse Sequence
    this is a time-lapse sequence that shows how the Production Team at The Great Courses built the set for this amazing course. Enjoy! x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 472-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Eric H. Cline

About Your Professor

Eric H. Cline, Ph.D.
The George Washington University Capitol Archaeological Institute
Dr. Eric H. Cline is a Professor of Classics and Anthropology and the current Director of The George Washington University (GWU) Capitol Archaeological Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from Yale University, and a B.A. in Classical Archaeology modified by Anthropology from Dartmouth College. He is also a National Geographic...
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Archaeology: An Introduction to the World's Greatest Sites is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 202.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very well balanced presentation The course is a great example of combining interests of the casual, TV archaeologist with that of a true scholar. I especially enjoyed the details necessary to all investigations whether it be organization, job descriptions, legal issues, louting, preservation, progress in investigative services,etc. Well done!
Date published: 2020-11-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Discs are terrible i just purchased this and received it about two weeks ago. I finished all the lecture. Content was okay, even if I already knew a lot of it. Needed more visuals. However, overall good except: every single disc would freeze and have to be backed up and try to get it to get through the stuck spot. I'm not talking about one or two times: I'm talking 6 to 8 per disc. I am very glad I got this on sale. If I had purchased this full price I would be angry rather than annoyed.
Date published: 2020-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fascinating intro to a subject I know little about negatives: Wasn't blown away by this guy's overall, ummm, shall we say...smarts? However, taking that out of the equation, the course was excellent. Learned a ton about stuff I knew little about and got a lot of ideas for future travel.
Date published: 2020-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Scratch your travel itch without leaving home This is a beginners guide, but even if you have some background in archeology it is worth it. And since I am stuck at home due to the virus, this course is scratching my travel bug itch.
Date published: 2020-09-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Disappointing. Information excessive on unimportant and forgettable details; presenter moves hands CONSTANTLY which is impossibly distracting. Presentation set looks artificial because it IS a stage, giving a "primary school" effect to the lectures. Most certainly not enough real fact, none. Few photos, that's all. This is a visual medium but there is not visual stimulation to supplement the learning experience, even taking into account there is incidental minute detail about digs without not nearly enough on what was discovered in the digs.
Date published: 2020-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Choice! Loved the course, loved the instructor. Learned a whole bunch. What more do you need to know?!
Date published: 2020-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting way to tour! I'm really enjoying this course. I love archaeology, but I'm not a scholar. I'm enjoying touring these fascinating sites and learning the history of the site and the archaeology.
Date published: 2020-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Lectures I really enjoyed this lecture series. The material was presented in an engaging voice with interesting anecdotes. It covers the basics of archaeology and the details of great historical finds. It fulfills by historic and adventuring souls.
Date published: 2020-07-27
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